I would like to expand on a post I did 6 Decembers ago, “Christmas. It’s Okay, Really.” There are some, possibly ironic, reasons that Christmas is good as it is.
- It is at the right time of year. I know it is popular to say that the birth of Christ, as a historical event, probably happened sometime in the early Spring, but Easter is already located there. The exact date is not important since the defining feature of any annual festival (using the solar calendar) is that it happens at the same time each year, not the specific date (consistency over accuracy). Supposedly, the date for Christmas was chosen based on the belief of some that Jesus’ conception lined up with his death, so if you add 9 months to Easter you get the Christmas season. Assuming this is true then the date of Christmas was not selected to line up with Saturnalia, the ancient Roman pagan holiday. This actually would make sense since Christmas, well, doesn’t actually line up with Saturnalia. If it intentionally replaces a pagan holiday, why get the day wrong? With Christmas coming in the dead of winter (for much of the Northern Hemisphere at least) it brings a time of joy to the coldest and often dreariest time of the year. For those living in the tropics, don’t be fooled by Currier & Ives prints. The time where Christmas is placed can be pretty unpleasant with cold, damp, and dreary snow. I was raised in Western New York State. I know of which I speak.
- It is actually two holidays. Part of the reason that Christians get so stressed out at Christmas (one of many reasons, really) is the need to emphasize the “real meaning of Christmas.” The real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who came, sent by God, as redeemer, as teacher, as healer, and as example for mankind. That is pretty heady stuff. But there is another Christmas as well. That Christmas has a fat guy in red jammies who appears to abuse elfin folk and woodland creatures to give gifts to people around the world. Secular Christmas (sometimes referred to as “the Holiday Season”) is a celebration that happens on the same date as Christmas, but is something different. While many Christiams see it as competition (and in some ways it is), it can also be seen as a chance for Christians and non-Christians to celebrate together… one with more religious and one with more secular, but still coming together as families and neighbors. There is something right and good about that.
- It has a lot of non-Christian elements pulled in. This bothers some people. Some like to see the Christmas tree as a paganistic symbol stuck in the corner of one’s house. But the pagan roots were cut off well before your own tree was cut from its roots to be brought home and decorated. To me there is a better way of looking at it. Christmas is a historical
event with mostly Semitic roots (with perhaps a few Parthian, Egyptian and Roman elements). But most of us are not Semitic (or Parthian, Egyptian, or Roman). It is nice that we can bring in our own cultural additions to them as well. The Christmas tree from Germany, or the Ceppo from Italy are nice additions. In our house when we were young we would have Swedish foods for our Christmas Eve smorgasbord with relatives as a reminder of our ancestral heritage. Here in the Philippines we have parols— stylized lanterns meant to remind one of the Star of Bethlehem. In Japan they eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, because—- well, who needs a reason? There is something joyous about a celebration that allows for gifts of one’s own culture, as well as other cultures, to be added to the early foreign gifts of gold, frankinscense and myrrh to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
- It is wildly over-the-top. Yes, I know that Christmas can be too much. Here in the Philippines, aspects of Christmas celebration start in September. Yes, there is too much consumerism. Yes, it can be tiring. And yet, there is something wonderful in the wild abandon. Here in the Philippines, Miso de gallo has already started where Catholic Christians get up in the middle of the night to go to church for many days. My wife talks fondly about these 3am services that she attended as a child. Here in Baguio, Christmas village and light displays have opened up, some with machines that pump bubbly foam into the air to simulate snow. In Pampanga, they have the parol festival with huge starlike lanterns that are so big that they and their electrical generators must be transported on trucks, that compete for glory. In the US, people go crazy with more and more lights rivalling the Griswolds in the movie Christmas Vacation. Now, all of this seems bad. In some ways perhaps it is. I personally like things simpler. But in many countries where Christianity is a minority religion, Christmas is the easiest time for Christians to invite their neighbors to church, and the most likely time they will get a positive response. It is, in part, the wild revelries associated with Christmas that peeks their curiosity, much like Diwali in Hinduism or the Water Festival in some Buddhist countries.
- It keeps changing. Each year, crappy new Christmas songs come out and drab and weird new Christmas specials on TV or movies in the theaters. New toys (for adults and kids) rev-up consumer
frenzies. Yet, the weird new stuff seems to create a contrarian response. It seems to remind us of that which is timeless. People will sing songs that were written long before there were copyrights. We think wistfully of days past, and pull out traditions from the attic, dust them off and allow them to pull us into something that feels more timeless. In fact, the Christmas story has an aspect to it that is so far out of line with the ephemeral and frenetic quality of Christmas celebration, that somehow we find ourselves drawn centripetally to its message of “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.”
Anyway, whether you celebrate Advent, Christian Christmas and/or Secular Christmas, I pray you will have a season of peace, hope,joy, and love as you join with family and friends, and maybe church family. May you have a safe (international) New Years eve, and a quiet, but joyous Epiphany.
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon
(Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year)